• MARGATE – New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin is planning to meet with local officials early next month to discuss alternatives to the pending dunes construction project.

    Mayor Michael Becker said he received a call from Martin last week to arrange a meeting or two to discuss “unresolved issues with the specification of the plan, including drainage.”

    Becker said the 15-minute conversation was cordial and that Martin suggested a second meeting in mid-November to meet with the city’s technical consultant about the project.

    “I think it is a big step forward for the commissioner to call us,” Becker said. “He is aware of our issues and will set the time and place for the meetings.”

  • VENTNOR – The Board of Education agreed Wednesday, Oct. 22 to partner with Atlantic City in its effort to win the Georgetown University Energy Prize national competition, which carries a $5 million prize for the community that most effectively reduces its per-capita energy consumption over a two-year period starting Jan. 1, 2015.

    Action taken at the meeting will pave the way for other Downbeach communities to join Atlantic City in an interlocal agreement that benefits residents and helps the environment.

    Atlantic City is one of 52 municipalities nationwide that made it to the quarter-finals of the competition, which is designed to create a more energy efficient America. The prize challenges communities to incorporate innovative ideas to reduce energy consumption.

  • VENTNOR – The Board of Commissioners Thursday, Oct. 15 introduced an amendment to the city’s salary ordinance to set into motion an intergovernmental transfer that would allow the city to hire an Atlantic City employee as its next emergency management coordinator.

    Longtime Emergency Management Coordinator William Melfi will retire in two weeks, Mayor Michael Bagnell said. He is currently using up his sick days and his last day of employment will be Nov. 1.

  • Margate engages DEP and Army Corps to discuss options to building dunes

    MARGATE – The Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Thursday, Oct. 16 that preserves the city’s rights in fighting the dunes project. The commission entered a “tolling and standstill” agreement with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which will allow the municipality to negotiate alternatives to building sand dunes on Margate’s beach.

    Assistant Attorney General David C. Apy filed with the Atlantic County Clerk three administrative orders to effectuate a taking of partial easements not voluntarily granted by shorefront property owners, including the City of Margate, to build the dunes. The state will use its powers of eminent domain to negotiate good faith compensation due to 10 shorefront property owners and 16 riparian grant owners.

Margate voters to decide whether to fight dunes in November

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MARGATE – When local voters go to the polls for the Nov. 4 general election, they’ll get one more chance to decide if a legal battle to stop the dunes project is in Margate’s future.

Following a 90-minute special meeting that brought out supporters and detractors of the fight to stop the pending dunes project, the Board of Commissioners passed two resolutions. One would put a question on the November ballot asking voters to spend $200,000 plus technical costs to sue the state and federal government to stop the project. The other would allow the city to hire an attorney to file an immediate injunction to stop the project.

The deadline to submit a non-binding referendum question to the Atlantic County clerk for the November ballot is Friday, Aug. 15.

Mayor Michael Becker and Commissioner Maury Blumberg were at the dais, while Commissioner Brenda Taube attended the meeting via conference call.

Becker opened the meeting by reading Taube’s prepared statement in which she supported a referendum for Margate voters to decide if they want to spend up to a half-million dollars for a legal suit that might not be successful.

Taube said she believes a fight would exceed the amount suggested by attorneys who rendered opinions about the city’s chances of succeeding in court.

“I recognize that 64 percent of voters voted no to moving forward with the Shore Protection Plan, but they did not vote yes to moving forward with a lawsuit against the governor and state,” Taube said.

Becker said he would support getting the injunction, but wanted to hear from voters about what could be a costly legal battle.

“I believe Margate’s beaches are beautiful as they are. I am not in favor of the dunes project and I will continue to fight as I have for the last year. I am also in favor of getting an immediate injunction,” Becker said.

Becker said the non-binding referendum held in November 2013 asked residents to approve a cooperative agreement to allow the dunes to be built, but it did not include a mandate from taxpayers to fund a costly legal suit to stop the project.

“We must ask the citizens of Margate for their input,” Becker.

Blumberg said he is “passionately” against the Army Corps’ plan to build dunes on the beach.

“I’m looking at this as not a fight, but as a challenge, a challenge to the governor and DEP that we want to compromise,” Blumberg said. “For me it’s about challenging that we live in a democracy and the state can’t just come in here and take our beaches and condemn our property.”

A referendum is not needed, Blumberg said, but the commission should uphold the voters’ overwhelming approval of the November 2013 referendum.

Blumberg said he prefers that the city, state and federal government have “good faith negotiations” to come up with a plan that would not only protect beach-block homes, but all the homes in Margate.

“Ninety-eight percent of the flooding we had from Hurricane Sandy came from the bay,” Blumberg said.

The dunes would create other problems and lead beach-block property owners to appeal their assessments, which would increase taxes for other homeowners, Blumberg said. In addition, the dunes would require expensive maintenance every three years, outfall pipes will be an eyesore on the beach, and ponding behind the dunes would attract garbage and mosquitoes.

“We have a strong bulkhead system that works better than the dunes. The dunes will wash away in 20 to 45 minutes,” Blumberg said.

Resident John Sparta said he did not oppose having a referendum, but voters should be fully informed when they vote.

“It is incumbent upon the city to ensure the people are aware of the facts and the consequences. In the last referendum, people were ignorant. They voted against it because they didn’t understand or get all the facts,” Sparta said.

Resident Lloyd Levinson, who lives two houses from the beach and had “not a drop of salt water” that came into his home during Sandy, said there is no need for a referendum and the amount of money a fight will cost is “negligible” compared to the loss to the ratable base.

“The voters overwhelmingly voted not to have dunes. You can’t go back to the electorate every time there is a hot-button issue,” Levinson said. “We all knew it was going to potentially have to challenge the governor’s decision to have dunes up and down the coast. As the kids say, suck it up and vote to proceed.”

“People will lose confidence in us as a commission if we cannot come to an agreement to affect a challenge,” Blumberg said. “Sometimes you have to fight, not because you want to win, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

One resident chastised the commission for being indecisive in its dealings over the dunes project.

“Holding a referendum will set a precedent for everything else the city wants to do. The city spends a lot of money on things people don’t want and they never get a vote on it,” she said.

Daniel Gottlieb, who heads the Margate Citizens Questioning the Dunes Project committee that spearheaded the 2012 referendum, said the commission should not file an injunction until it obtains input from a coastal engineer.

“We need a coastal engineer to help us make this argument to the state, but we are not the experts. Why don’t we talk to a coastal engineer and find out what chances we have. Lawyers are saying if we go on legal issues, we don’t have a good chance,” Gottlieb said.

Some residents questioned when the project would start and said a November referendum would be too late to have an impact.

The project on Absecon Island was slated to begin in fall and end in spring 2015 so as not to negatively affect the summer season.

NJDEP spokesman Bob Considine said the Army Corps is handling the bidding for the Atlantic City to Longport dunes and replenishment project.

“Each project is at a different stage, so we don’t know when it will start. All we know is the project would start after this summer and go until 2016,” Considine said.

Regarding Margate, NJDEP spokesperson Larry Ragonese said, “The Army Corps is in final stages of engineering and design. They are expected to go out to bid on this project this summer.”

The resolution to file an injunction passed unanimously. The resolution to hold the referendum passed 2-1 with Blumberg voting no.

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